SINAI/BVAC Partnership Produces Dynamic Results

When two outstanding organizations join together the results can be extraordinary. Such was the case when BVAC (Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corp.) partnered with SINAI’s vocational program this past year, successfully placing a group of students whose commitment was inspiring.

SINAI Schools strives to educate students with a wide range of learning and developmental disabilities, focusing on each student’s academic, emotional and social potential and empowering them to become productive members of society. SINAI partners with community yeshivas, so its students are able to learn within a mainstream yeshiva elementary or high school.

The vocational program at SINAI has several dozen vocational partners throughout the community, offering students a variety of opportunities to procure life skills and real work experience. This year, SINAI students from the Shalem High Schools at TABC and Heichal HaTorah were given a chance to work with BVAC, a collaboration that proved to be hugely successful for all involved.

“For the students at our SINAI high schools at TABC and Heichal HaTorah, which serve teens with developmental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities, vocational training plays a major role,” said Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, dean of SINAI Schools. “Throughout their high school years, we arm them with the tools they need to succeed as independent adults, in the community at large and in the workplace. We are so grateful to all of our vocational partners, who welcome our students with respect, and who recognize what our students have to offer them.”

BVAC has been serving the borough of Bergenfield since 1941, providing the highest quality care and emergency transport free of charge. BVAC operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and answers over 2,000 calls annually. The organization is entirely run by a volunteer network of individuals ages 18 and up.

Lieutenant Michael Rothschild, an EMT for the past 33 years, has been working with BVAC for two years and said the SINAI students have been a tremendous asset to the organization, helping with many issues that have been overlooked, primarily due to a lack of time. “One thing became clear from the origin and that was that these kids have some amazing talents that are under-utilized,” said Rothschild. “The boys stepped in and really put things in place,” he added. He described the partnership as “a win-win situation; us helping them and them helping us.”

“SINAI has had many vocational partners in the Teaneck and surrounding communities as part of our focus towards giving high school students practical, real-life opportunities to learn job skills and experience what it means to be an employee. These opportunities enable the students to gain clarity about what they enjoy and excel at, while giving us, their support team, a sense of how to best guide them, along with their families, towards realistic future employment,” explained Esther Klavan, director of SINAI at TABC. “What makes BVAC unique is that it operates through the dedicated work of community volunteers, thus enabling students of SINAI to join the ranks of those who carve out time to do chesed for others throughout the week.”

There is a substantial effort placed on matching students with jobs they enjoy, tapping into a specific talent or interest. One student particularly liked mechanical work, making him a perfect candidate to routinely check the mechanics of the ambulance. SINAI and BVAC work together to develop specific tasks that fit the skills and abilities of the students while benefiting the organization at the same time.

According to Klavan, the more needed and relevant the students feel, the more successful the placement. “We have a student doing important computer work involving organizing and managing digital documents and files, thus freeing up other volunteers to be available for emergency calls as well as keeping the backlog of paperwork at a minimum,” she said. “At BVAC, his computer work is functional and relevant, providing the much-needed motivation for him to focus on the expected tasks and carry his weight as part of this organization. He has volunteered at BVAC once a week since the start of this school year and is now virtually independent there with his computer work.”

Unlike mainstream students who are more likely to excel through indirect learning experiences, SINAI students do not typically excel with that approach, requiring a direct learning system. “We don’t wait for opportunities to come by, we create those opportunities and set them up for our students,” Klavan explained.

Hannah Cowan, director of SINAI at Heichal HaTorah, believes the vocational partnerships offer an invaluable resource to the students and their futures. “At BVAC, our students have acquired skills that they can ultimately use at other jobs,” said Cowan. Additionally, the reality of being in a true work environment reinforces what they have learned regarding job responsibility and social interaction.

According to Cowan, the vocational program provides confidence-building skills for many of the students. The students working at BVAC understand they are relied upon for certain jobs and this encourages them to succeed. If supplies are missing or the gas in the ambulance is low, they realize it is their responsibility to remedy the situation, said Cowan.

With so many volunteers, not everyone at BVAC knew about the arrangement with SINAI, yet it is clear to most members of the ambulance corp that things are different. One member who has been around BVAC for over a decade commented that something had noticeably changed, specifically how well stocked and organized the ambulance is.

Rothschild is thrilled with how well this partnership has developed and hopes it will continue. “It was a synergistic idea of two volunteer organizations helping each other and the community in a very tangible way,” he expressed. “When two great organizations team up, it’s a home run across the board.”

This article was originally published in The Jewish Link.